The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 20, 2010

15 percent sewer rate hike 15 percent sewer rate hike

CONNEAUT — Skeptical of revenue projections and fearful of losing two municipal employees to layoffs, City Council approved a one-year, 15 percent sewer rate increase at Tuesday’s special meeting.

The rate hike fell short of the level sought by administrators, but is enough to head off the layoff of two waste water treatment plant employees.

By a 6-1 vote, council replaced the 20 percent rate hike sought by administrators with the lesser amount. A 15 percent increase will cost the city’s minimum users an extra $2.58 a month, while average users will see their bills climb $4.32 monthly.

Council unanimously agreed the rate hike will expire at the end of the year. By that time, the city will have a good idea how other revenue-earning programs are working.

Council had been debating the sewer rate for the past few weeks. Administrators said the 20 percent hike was needed to deal with a $400,000 shortfall in the waste water enterprise fund. The extra revenue would also help pump up the treatment plant’s capital improvement fund, used for equipment and vehicle purchases and repair work, proponents said.

The 15 percent rate hike means the city needs to trim an estimated $133,000 from the sewage treatment plant budget to make up the difference. Last week, plant superintendent Craig Pierce said the reduction will be difficult but can be accomplished.

A smaller rate hike would have put two maintenance positions at the plant in jeopardy. Some council members, including Greg Mooney (Ward 3) and Tony Julio (Ward 4), argued the city can’t afford to lose any additional employees. Sewage plant staff, for example, sometimes assist the Public Works Department perform chores, such as snowplowing.

Layoffs also mean unemployment payments and overtime expense to fill gaps in shifts, members said.

Councilman-at-Large Robert Naylor, who originally endorsed a 10 percent rate hike, opted for the 15 percent because he feared sewer revenue projections for 2010 could fall short. He was especially leery of reports that an automatic water meter reader system now being installed in the city could raise tens of thousands of dollars this year.

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